Alister Jack, speaking to the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists Association, said he was not surprised by the Lord Advocate’s admission that she did not have the necessary confidence in the competency of an independence referendum Bill being passed by Holyrood.
Nicola Sturgeon announced last week that she hoped a second independence referendum would take place on October 19, 2023 should the Supreme Court rule a referendum Bill was within the powers of Holyrood.
This will be decided by judges following a reference to the court by Dorothy Bain, the Lord Advocate.
If the Bill does not get the stamp of approval, Ms Sturgeon has called for the next general election – currently pencilled in for 2024 – to be a “de-facto referendum”, with the SNP saying a mandate for independence would be won with 50 per cent plus one of the popular vote.
This has been rejected by her opponents, with Mr Jack also stating general elections are “not for that purpose”.
He said: “General elections are about a myriad of issues as we know.
“Nicola Sturgeon can no more put in her manifesto that she’s going to remove Trident from the Clyde which is entirely reserved – which she’s done in the past, but she’s never removed Trident from the Clyde – than she can put in her manifesto she’s going to break up the United Kingdom.
“That isn’t how general elections work and if the Supreme Court has already said that’s out of scope, I think people will draw their own conclusions.”
The Scottish Secretary said while he had been advised by the Advocate General that aspects of the constitution such as the union were wholly reserved, it was important for the UK Government to leave the judgement to the court.
“We shouldn’t lead the witness and we should allow the Supreme Court to make their deliberation without giving a preference for either way,” he said.
“Obviously I would expect them ultimately to come out and say the constitution is reserved, but the either way answer is whether they take it forward or they say there is not a Bill here, there is nothing to adjudicate on. Those two options are in front of them.
“My view is we don’t give a preference on that, we don’t lead the witness, we allow the process to proceed without any interference from anywhere.”
Asked whether he believed the admission from the Lord Advocate was “devastating” for Ms Sturgeon, he said: “I’m not surprised by that because the Scotland Act is crystal clear.
“My Advocate General for Scotland, the current one and the previous one, Lord Keen, were always very clear to me that the constitution was wholly reserved – there's an emphasis on the word wholly there – to the Parliament in Westminster.
“So it doesn't come as any great surprise to me that the Lord Advocate’s taken that position.”